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Toiling with two Youngstowns

Published: Sun, October 3, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

The horrific deaths of Vivian Martin and Thomas Repchic erode the vibrancy of the Youngstown rebound — Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown State University football, V&M Star, Youngstown 2010, etc. — if you believe there is a rebound.

Many people don’t.

To many people, it’s “Youngstown 20-When?”

You can read those people on the Vindy.com message boards. They’re usually the first ones to douse a good headline with a sobering tale of life in the ’hood.

And when there’s a tragic headline — as we’ve seen in the past week or so — the citizens are on our phone lines with more sobering tales.

They talk of making calls to the police about drug houses — and seeing no response.

Then there’s a call about a home being robbed — and police telling them to come down to the police station to fill out a report.

One friend called me and talked about the ongoing effort to move a parent out of the city. After years of refusal, the decision was easy this summer after a home robbery that involved a face-to-face encounter with the intruder.

This is in addition to a couple of car thefts and a block that’s seen other neighbors simply walk away from their homes.

Another call resulted in the story you see on the front page of today’s Vindicator: a family struck by seeing their childhood home reduced to something that could have been used in the film “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Add to these phone calls the break-in reports tied to Mr. Repchic’s home just hours after he was slain, and another break-in at the home of a witness to the Repchic incident carried out by the father of the alleged assailant.

It’s fair to wonder: “Which Youngstown am I a part of?”

The truth is, we are each a part of both.

Both Youngstowns live, breath, blossom and burn.

Flip over to today’s page A16, and you can read Bertram de Souza calling for something close to martial law. He was burning this week, and his views represent many, many people.

But reality, too, is that here’s what’s also gone on this week: In Maine, a husband killed his wife. Four teens in Boston killed a man they had only intended to rob. In Minneapolis, a teen was executed mob-style in the back of a car. In Albany, a man hired someone to kill his unborn child by stabbing the pregnant mother.

And there’s Mr. Repchic and Ms. Martin.

There are two Youngstowns. There’s not just that decrepit place where those who can leave have, and those who’ve stayed, well, good luck.

In coping with that one, you have to retain hope that through the grime, the crime, the Martins and the Repchics, a better light can burn through.

You have to be realistic about the problems.

Community activists talk about land banks and food deserts. City workers talk about landlord registrations, and city council members talk about DUI checkpoints, cars parked on lawns and driver’s- license checks.

This is nice — if you didn’t have city blocks with fewer humans than Columbiana County back roads, and little old ladies bunkered in their homes and a “shrinking city” that hasn’t shrunk at all in terms of road miles patrolled.

Close the blocks, condense the city, and protect the most vulnerable.

There is hope where there’s focus. Refocus and regroup.

On Friday night, I was at the Poland High football game — a home game vs. Chaney High School, located on Youngstown’s West Side.

Earlier this year, I’d seen Austintown Fitch fill the opposing bleachers; same when Hubbard came to play.

But on this Friday night, Chaney’s players and coaching staff on the sideline outnumbered their fans in the stands.

If a community is measured by its support of high school football, there was not much to measure. In an urban setting, rules are different.

Chaney High School’s student body is 80 percent minority and 82 percent impoverished. And about 98 percent not in attendance Friday.

By halftime, the team was losing to Poland 28-0. (The final was, mercifully, just 31-0.)

At halftime, the Chaney band loaded onto the field and made their way across to the packed Poland stands. Chaney has a band, for sure. But for comparison sake, Poland’s band had more tuba players than Chaney had band members (OK, possibly exaggerated, but not by much.)

The band’s first number received soft, polite applause from the Poland crowd; more obligatory applause than an ovation.

By the second song, “Word Up,” the band had the crowd’s attention. They nailed it. When Chaney exited the field to tunes from the movie “Drumline,” a crowd of a couple thousand Polanders knew that Chaney had game — regardless of the scoreboard.

Through the grime and crime, a light can burn through.


1author50(1121 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

"It was the best of times... It was the worst of times."

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2Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

So Youngstown is headed for geatness ? Not a chance ! If an apple has a rotten spot and it isn't removed soon the whole apple rots . The harm caused by the killings is far reaching and is destroying our chances for new growth .

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31970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

I don't remember when TF moved here, but the reason why people here don't believe in any rebound is what they see and have experienced over the years. We have seen the nice neighborhoods go bad.

The west side near Chaney and around Cornersburg used to be a very safe and solid secure neighborhood. No more. I live in the city in that area. I have had my vehicle stolen from my driveway. The YPD was WORTHLESS when it happened.

Those of us who have lived here awhile have seen the south side and north side become slums. And we see it happening to or neighborhoods in slow motion.

House values here are dropping like a rock. Nice house on Beard Den/Kirk Rd. just sold for $27,500. And it is a nice house.

The so called rebound is NOT happening IN ANY WAY in the neighborhoods in the city of Youngstown.

The "rebounds" you cite, "Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown State University football, V&M Star, Youngstown 2010" have ZERO to do with our neighborhoods. Vindy has a paper called Neighbors. Well that is what makes a community strong, and in city it is a bad situation.

All of the examples cited as rebounds are either govt. or govt. supported or irrelevant. YSU football is fun, but really does not do much for our neighborhoods.

And with all due respect, because I truly think TF is sincere, is very active in the community and though a transplant to town cares about what happens here and does a very nice job as editor, he lives in POLAND. He goes downtown, where there has been a lot of govt. $$$ dumped in, and then he goes home to live away from the city. If he lived in the war zone, or on the edge of it, I think he'd feel and see things a bit less cheerfully. That is NOT a slam at him at all. Just life.

I find it disturbing that a while back the mayor was asked to evaluate the police chief by the Vindy, and he graded him a C+ or maybe a B-, I forget which but has kept him on. The most important agency in the city gets such low marks from the mayor, and the mayor doesn't replace him. That is troubling. (And I really like the mayor's efforts to tear down blight, so I am in no way anti Mayor Williams)

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41970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

I presume that TF or some other Vindy VIP will meet with Biden. I'd like them to say the following. part 1:
"Welcome to town VP Biden. It is always a pleasure for our community to host a visit by the prez or vice prez, regardless of party.

As you know, or you wouldn't be here, this area has been a rock solid supporter for Democrats from top to bottom for decades. you probably won't find an area more reliable for straight ticket voting in Ohio, perhaps the country.

This newspaper endorsed you in 2008. There obviously has been no decision of who we will endorse in 2012. But we'd like to give you the opportunity to get a leg up on the endorsement process.

For all of our support, we have very little to show for it. In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton came here and PROMISED us that if he was elected we'd get the DFAS center and the 3,500 jobs it would have brought. Then Congressman Traficant pushed and got our proposal to be the best of all submitted. And we didn't get the center. Things would be a lot different if Clinton had kept his promise. Quite frankly, the Democrat party owes the Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, and the bill is due. Now. As in today.

So, here is what we want........

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51970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

So, here is what we want. Here is a list of all the vacant buildings in Youngstown, Campbell, Struthers, Austintown, and the rest of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties. Here is the list with their addresses, and cost of demolition. We don't have the money to tear them down. So you do it.

There has been lots of talk about "deconstructing" cities of their blight. It sounds like a good idea, but hasn't been fully implemented any place. Youngstown is small enough that it can be tried here, but large enough that it will make a difference. Let's make Youngstown the national model and experiment.

Blight in neighborhoods is like a cancer. Many cancers if caught early enough can be cured. If they are not caught in time, the cancer kills. Same with blight in neighborhoods.

So help us with our tear downs. We want the blight to be open space and parks. Given to people who have kept their homes up so they can plant a garden or just maintain it. Help us save our neighborhoods. And let's see if this can work nationally.

And the money to tear down the houses will be used to pay local residents to do the work, who will pay taxes, so we can maintain our police and road departments.

If you choose to ignore us, then please stop coming here and using us as a campaign prop. Our neighborhoods have been changing for the worse. We want REAL change, for the better.

You have been in office for almost half your term. Your party has had a majority in the House AND Senate and the White House. Let's see some real action. Right here in Youngstown, Ohio. Here's the list, VP Biden.

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6Traveler(606 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

I still cant see why the firemen we pay to wait for fires to break out aren't sent to these abandon house with 5gal gas cans and told burn them down it not like there busy half the time.

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7Silence_Dogood(1670 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

Why would you use around $13.00 worth of gas when you can use 50 cents worth of useless newspaper.

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8Traveler(606 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

If we used old newspapers we could call it green demolition and get a government grant

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9walter_sobchak(2672 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago


I have to say that I agree with you. If I lived on one of these streets with this many abandoned houses that can't be torn down, I would torch the place. Don't even bother with the fire dept. I mean, do you really believe you would get caught? Let them burn to the ground and then bulldoze them under. Voila! One less crack house!

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10PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

I could comment in great detail in regards to this column but I’ll try to cut it down to talking point size. I will also preface my comments by saying that I think the general point of this column is well taken. However, I will also say that I think it is a bit shortsighted just the same.

“Community activists talk about land banks and food deserts. City workers talk about landlord registrations, and city council members talk about DUI checkpoints, cars parked on lawns and driver’s- license checks. This is nice — if you didn’t have city blocks with fewer humans than Columbiana County back roads, and little old ladies bunkered in their homes and a “shrinking city” that hasn’t shrunk at all in terms of road miles patrolled. Close the blocks, condense the city, and protect the most vulnerable. There is hope where there’s focus. Refocus and regroup.”

First, to suggest that the above is somehow exclusive to the solution to the problem (or that it is “nice”) is to suggest a lack of understanding of the depth and scale (as well as the history) of the problem or how these things are related. Security is the priority issue. There is no debate about this. How much effort / emphasis and what type of professional quality is being administered should be the focus of the debate. However, if you are not working on multiple fronts to diminish the environment in which crime breeds then you will continue to operate in a reactionary mode until the tax base erodes to a point where no service is adequate. We are already experiencing that now. The point: you will never – repeat – never police your way out of the problem. Therein lies the rationale behind other aspects of attacking the problem in taking the long view. There are multiple means that must be pursued in which to reach the same end. These should have been developed or executed many years ago (BTW: we’re only scratching the surface of the needs) …but we are at where we are at.

Regarding planning: perhaps we should have applied for a magic wand with the stimulus money? While the idea of closing blocks, condensing the city and protection the citizens who remain is a fine idea (it is basically the overarching idea of the Youngstown 2010 Plan), we have found in Youngstown that it is not a practical reality – neither from the citizen’s perspective, politically or financially (at this point). When you knock on the door of a person who has lived in their home for many years, many times you will find that that person does not want to leave. The problem to them is not the fact where they live but the 3 vacant houses next to them, the drug house, the cracked sidewalks the unpaved road, the speeding car, the youth. This might be despite the fact that there is only 25% or less density left on that street – a candidate neighborhood for relocation in theory. They tell this to their council person who then echoes the same in City Hall.

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11PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

(Part 2) Further, if we don’t have the funds to hire more police, bring down houses, pave roads – where do we find the money to relocate individuals on a neighborhood wide-scale and close down entire blocks? It’s a long process and most of it is through painfully slow attrition.

Ironically, a land bank would probably be our best tool in helping to reach that end over time as it has the ability to acquire property as it becomes vacant or to develop other property in more dense neighborhoods so that relocation might become an actual option is certain cases, again, over time. But let’s get a land bank first.

There are no silver bullets. It takes policing / technology, land banks, education intervention, youth programming, university outreach, church and citizen group participation, competent elected leadership and government, non-profit work, economic development, good investigative journalism, etc…all of the above. In many ways, we are behind the curve. In others we are ahead of it. While horrific tragedies like this weekend bring us to our knees, we can’t stop the fight and we have to do it in smarter, comprehensive, Valley-wide way.

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12msweetwood(179 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Phil's points are illuminating as always, but I have to offer an alternative view to the notion that we cannot "police our way" out of the situation. You hear this popular phrase a lot these days from current and would-be political leaders.

Their point: When a senior citizen reports their house was broken into and a TV and other items were taken, Youngstown PD will often ask them - depending on the toll of the day – to come down to the department and fill out a report. There's no investigation; no fingerprinting, neighborhood canvassing, etc. Just resignation that the TV is gone. And even if there was a cop on every corner, you just can't stop every crime.

The alternative that seems debate-worthy: When did this mindset develop? Let's say it's 1960. If you lived on Trenton Avenue and there was a break-in, the police then probably came to investigate. The same for 1970. But the 1980s? 1990s? What was the tipping point? When did resignation that every little break-in could not be properly investigated enable those who were inclined to do break-ins which in turn led to the terrorism and feeling of helplessness of upstanding citizens?

Make no mistake: The bad guys know what crimes they can likely get away with because of the enforcement philosophy. It's always the good folks, like the women who called the newsroom last week, who are stunned that policing may not now cover the invasion that victimized them and now causes them feelings of hopelessness and despair.

I think we need to augment the long-term, over-arching philosophies so many seem so quick to dispense with more practical, down-to-earth, real-world solutions. Our tolerance for certain crimes must be debated if we are serious about cracking down on crime and reclaiming the neighborhoods.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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13PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

No one is going to disagree with your point, Mark (snide personal remarks aside). It makes a lot of sense - so much so that if it were that simple, then why wouldn't it be done? Obviously, the problem is more complex. Take it from someone who attends block watch meetings on every side of the city every single night of the week, worked as an administrator in court system for 3 ½ years and (not that this really matters at all) also has graduate level education in the field of criminal justice from YSU (with a focus on Youngstown crime).

The fact of the matter is that the police operate - per instructions of their Chief - on 2 basic orders:

1. Answer every single complaint: regardless of how negligible the complaint may appear and no matter how long it may take to respond (several days in some instances).

2. Priority of calls of service: The first is immediate threat to life or limb (most often when a weapon is involved). The second is general violence (rape, domestic) and robbery. The third is property, traffic, etc. Calls for service beyond these (ex. dog barking, noisy vehicle)? Well, you get the picture.

Add to the mix that our police department is dealing with historical lows in patrol and special investigative unit staffing.

The police department will offer you a free tour of their 911 call center. They do this for citizens/groups (especially block watch groups) to get a sense of how much they have to deal with. They will also explain what they have a capability to do and not do. I would encourage the Vindy editorial staff to take YPD up on this offer. It is equally illuminating.

Now, to provide more context to the answer to your question: at one point in time, there was much greater stability in neighborhoods city-wide, a stronger tax base, more patrol officers to deal with smaller issues as they arose. However, in the 50’s and 60’s came the rise of sprawl and as people now had the means to leave the city for suburbia (rise in affordability of individual automobile purchase, I-680 / highway system, housing developments)…they did. Then the economic bottom fell out with the closing of the mills in the late 70’s only to perpetuate the exodus on a rapid scale. Add to the mix a severe race and class issue (concentration of poverty in the inner city…one of the top areas in the nation still to this day and underscored via Vindy.com messages board postings). 30 years later – without an aggressive plan /meaningful solution to the economic or social void, a declining tax base for patrol officers to deal with wide-spread neighborhood decline vs. perhaps specific areas in the past (i.e. a demand for calls for police service that exceeds reasonable supply of officers to stay on top of those calls quickly as they come in) and you have a situation in which the break-in in on Trenton Ave doesn’t get aggressive investigative follow up.

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14PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

(Part 2) A lot of this underscores why it is increasingly important to have well organized neighborhoods and better technology for the police (ex. Spot Shotters, cameras, etc). It’s a big help to the police to have the extra eyes and ears (despite the fact that they can’t get to all of the calls). It also helps – in smaller instances – to prevent some crime before it happens (if criminals know there are a lot of organized, concerned citizens in an area). It by no means is a guarantee to crime reduction in and of itself. Nothing is. Crime will still happen. Hence, whey we can’t “police our way out of the problem”. It takes a lot of things.

By the way: I’m not a cop or a city official. I’m not an expert on any of this. I’m telling you what I know from straight involvement in the community over a period of time. Further, with all this being said, is this a defense of YPD in its totality - no. As I stated in my previous post, the focus should be on what type of professional quality is being administered and constantly asking “are we doing absolutely all we can be doing?”. I think that speaks more your question which, naturally, I and every other concerned citizen are likely all in agreement on. There’s room for improvement as there is with a lot of things in the city. But it’s equally important to have some perspective before we debate these things.

Phil Kidd
Concerned Citizen

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15Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Policy at YPD starts from the mayors office down to the chief of police . The mayor now feels that there is too much attention paid to crime in Youngstown after the Repchic shooting . In a short while the critics will get weary and things will be back to normal as it did in a short while after the first shooting at St. Dominics .

Tolerance is the answer and the mayor has a plan . . ..


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16davidjohn(144 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

is the answer always to increase government

or is the answer for government to do its job better

take this stupid landlord registration

all this does is create a new bureaucracy

if a landlord is not providing the basics such as electricity gas water the tenant can withhold the rent until the problem is fixed

instead the city creates a whole new unmanageable bureaucracy

is the city going to require a painted porch

and a door without a single crack

will that make the tenants and those home owners in the city more safe

and what if the landlord does not make the repairs some bureaucrat arbitrarily assigns right away

a fine will be levied

and the fine will be used to give maureen oneill the law directors wife a bigger salary

and hire more friends

keep growing the government

but does that protect people like mr repchic

or the next victim

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17msweetwood(179 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Phil: There were NO snide personal remarks in my comment. I have your cell number for that. :)

That I am frustrated with the "can't police our way out" mentality is clear BUT was delivered both in person to you via our phone conversation last week and to the mayor on Tuesday.

I think you and I agree more than disagree but mostly differ in what data needs to be considered to create a universal "perspective" and how to enact the best programs or ideas for the quickest results. I think the city needs some dramatic game-changers, not just the methodical path so-often cited.

We also need to divide long-term goals – worthy as they are – from the day-to-day challenges. Maybe leaders need to consider as many smaller "1 percenters" to impact change as they do the overarching 2010 plans or land banks.

I think it is important to demonstrate to those seniors who might not have long life expectancies – either due to age or violence – that they don't have to necessarily live out the rest of their days in fear. There is a very palpable fear out there. And that fear seems to be disconnected from what is so often the subjects of big, over-arching plans, which is why I added my 2 cents. And commendable long-term goals might not bring these people much immediate comfort.

You are a student of this daily struggle and experience first-hand the overwhelming proportion of the task at hand and I bow to your expertise (you are an expert whether you admit it). Others also have viewpoints that have merit. We must encourage more input, not try to deflect it because it doesn't match some familiar or long-held precepts.

To hold off debate until everyone shares a single perspective would actually preclude such a debate. That's not a good idea. Dialogue is vital.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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18nojimbo(286 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Recently had the chance to see Youngstown's southside up close and personal while walking some of the neighborhoods. Some can be saved, Idora neighborhood and St. Matthias area for instance, but many are beyond hope.

Saw enough to move quite a bit from optimist toward pessimist and from liberal toward conservative on those two scales.

I know about tough economic conditions as the cause for crime and how people under stress can change, but this, what I saw on the south side, was an abomination.

Just third world in it's callous regard for human life and anything resembling civility or pride in home.

Thank God my parents instilled a love of learning, respect and concern for others, and a basic sense of right and wrong. The money wasn't always there, but those values sure were.

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19PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

In short (because I'm not the Mayor or Police Chief / just a non-profit worker doing what I can as well as a frustrated citizen like many others), I simply will say I agree with all of the above in spirit if not totality.

Now, instead of debating this ad nauseum online, let's take it offline and get to work. Send me an email if you want to learn how to get involved.


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20nojimbo(286 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Actually I don't know anyone living a valueless life. That's my point. I grew up in a lower middle class household. My family and many neighbors were steel mill workers

I can't imagine living like the places I've seen on Youngstown's south side. We cut the grass, we picked up trash. We had at least some pride not to let our small 1000 square foot house look like a freaking haunted house.

That's why I'm giving up. I'm turning from the good liberal party line of "let's help those who can't help themselves" and saying, "I'll help someone who lifts a hand, or wash cloth, or paint brush, to help themselves".

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211970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Neighborhoods don't just "go bad" like a bottle of old milk. The people living there make neighborhoods go bad. It really is that simple.

When half of the kids who enter 9th grade do not graduate, wherever they are living is going to have problems.

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22city_resident(528 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

"Neighborhoods don't just "go bad" like a bottle of old milk."

You're right. There are many scenarios that cause neighborhoods to go bad. But generally, it's because of wealth or white flight.

For example, in economies like this, when property values start to fall, the door is opened for the unscrupulous "investor" (aka slumlord) to invest in your neighborhood. When "undesirable" people start to move in to that slumlord's property, the neighbors start to sell or rent their houses. This increased supply of houses for sale causes property values to drop even more, opening the door for more "investors" and so on.

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